If you take a look around our Grenoble apartment, you’ll see that it is littered with lists. There’s the grocery and the remember-to-do lists on the refrigerator and the where-we’d-like-to-travel and the books-we’d-like-to-read lists on the nightstands. Steve’s school agenda is on his desk, and on the refrigerator at our home on our native soil, I prominently display the Honey-Do list where it can’t be missed—at least theoretically. Mentally, I have a Bucket List, and putting it on paper is included on one of the aforementioned lists! Neither Steve nor I can remember much without the help of these aids.
So when we started planning our trip to Madrid where we would meet our daughter, Beth, I began a list of things to do to get ready. This included the usual reservations for flights and hotels, loading money on our TravelEx card, printing out itineraries and boarding passes, and checking out guidebooks for things to see and do. I had been emailing Beth information on what I had accomplished at a frequent rate, sending links for the hotels that I had booked, and info on her flight reservations. In my zeal to keep organized, I had made one folder for her travel stuff and one for ours on my computer. What I didn’t remember to do was to share Steve’s and my travel itinerary folder with her. I’m embarrassed to say that I neglected to tell her our air carrier or even our arrival time! We had also failed to designate a meeting spot; I hadn’t given a thought to how we would find each other. Quel gâchis! (What a mess!) She landed at 7:45 am on February 25, and we arrived later at 1:10 pm. Our only hope for communication became the airport computers at 1€ for 15 minutes. After circling the airport in hopes of spotting her, suitcases in tow, for more time than I’d like to disclose, we finally connected via email and discovered that she too had been circling interminably and had decided to head for the hotel by taxi. (Didn’t we just laugh at this exact scene in a recent comedy movie?) We did the same, and our réunion after nine months of separation finally happened when we all reached the hotel many hours later. Yeah, lists. They’re only as good as the items you remember to put on them!
With that behind us and the evening before us, we checked into the Hostal Acapulco and then headed out for dinner at a tapas bar not far away. The sangria was flowing, and the tapas plates for which Spain is known kept coming. After dinner, we joined the rest of the late diners who were strolling and checking out the street vendors and entertainers. Returning to the hostal, we were able to appreciate the view from our balcony overlooking Plaza del Carmen where below, the restaurants were still filled with late-night diners, the plaza was alive with music, and we were enjoying the warm temperatures and clear sky.
When we had begun planning our trip, we were delighted to know we would have the opportunity to see some of the most famous art museums located in Madrid—the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, a modern art museum, and the renowned Prado. We didn’t want to miss these, but we also had Beth to consider in scheduling our joint time. Luckily, she was game to give these museums a go.
We headed to the Prado on Friday morning and spent most of the day there, taking a break to have lunch in the museum café. The Prado’s collection of Francisco de Goya’s paintings, as well as those of Diego Velázquez, made this a great introduction to Madrid for us since we were able to learn quite a bit about Spanish history and politics while enjoying the famous artwork.
Not wanting to overwhelm ourselves with paintings and museums, we were lucky that the beautiful weather allowed us to spend mucho tiempo outdoors the next day. We made a quick trip to the Royal Palace (Palacio Real) in the morning to see the loads of armor made for not only knights and horses, but also for little boys who supposedly went to battle too. (And we think kids have it tough these days!) The Palace was the most ornate we’ve ever seen, maybe more so than that of the French Sun King, Louis XIV, at Versailles. (There is an entire room that is completely covered by large porcelain plates! They were removed during the Spanish Civil War [1936–1939] to protect them from breakage and later reattached by screws when it was safe to do so.)
Wending our way through the incredibly clean alleys and small streets that crisscross Madrid, we happened upon a wedding about to process from the church. (Déjà-vu? See the Lans en Vercors post.) We decided to wait across the street with other onlookers for the bride and groom to appear. We were rewarded with their appearance along with the sound of (our favorite) the bagpipes! The bride emerged beaming in a beautiful white coat over her wedding dress. (American brides might want to adopt this idea for those winter weddings where they stand shivering uncomfortably during outdoor picture-taking.) But the best sight was that of the mothers of the bridal couple, descending the church steps in their huge hats and dressed all in black! Fashion varies globally.
Our next stop was Retiro Park (Parque del Buen Retiro), a 350-acre oasis in the city. We headed there to enjoy El Estanque, a large lake within the park, where rowboats aplenty dotted the surface with families and lovers enjoying the sunny day. As it was a Saturday, the park was full of people, and we enjoyed a carnival atmosphere with jugglers, puppeteers, and magicians entertaining the visitors. People lounged on the grass, picnicking and having a respite from the busyness of the city of Madrid.
Having given Beth a semi-museum break on Saturday, we headed to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, a modern art museum, on Sunday. This is where they keep the Salvador Dalis (who knew he didn’t just paint dripping timepieces?) and Picasso’s famous Guernica. For some unknown reason, photos of the huge painting can not be taken inside the room where it lives, but Steve was tall enough to be able to take an acceptable snap from the doorway. Please excuse the other visitor’s head.
I’m not sure I would classify Madrid as a culinary capital, but we found that along with tapas, the Spanish also love ham and seafood, evidenced by the shellfish shells littering the bar floors. Peel your shrimp and drop the shells along with your paper napkins on the floor as needed. The Museo del Jamón was the “highlight” of our trip, even though we didn’t eat there. Translation: Museum of Ham, but it was really a restaurant/all things pork shop. Passing this place several times, we saw that it was always crowded with customers stepping up to the bar and clamoring for their jamón. Seeing what is standard fare in Madrid, vegetarians must be a hungry/lonely group here.
Just for fun on our last day in Madrid, we boarded the #27 bus near the Prado and rode it into the modern part of town. The bus system in Madrid is outstanding as is the metro, and the buses are equipped with free Internet access, and we were able to check out some possible restaurants for dinner. From the bus, we caught a look at the leaning Puerta de Europa towers that frame the entry to the business area of Madrid. Sundays are days that Madrileños (the name for residents of Madrid) spend time with family and friends eating and socializing. Before heading back to the heart of Madrid, we found a small tapas bar and followed suit. That gave Beth the legitimate opportunity to gleefully throw her napkin and food trash on the floor, reveling in the fact that here, it is okay to do that, and I couldn’t make her pick it up! Methinks someone has unresolved childhood issues.
The next day we boarded the metro for the Madrid Airport and took a flight to a place unlike any we have ever known before—Tangier, Morocco!
Quel gâchis!: What a mess!
Madrileños: Inhabitants of Madrid